“Ship Building” (Apologies to Elvis Costello)


I’m a Trekkie.


I realize I just cost myself a lot of cred with my hard core readers, the ones who expect me to be a cynical bastard 24/7.  But I can’t help it.  If I was ever in the same room as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy or Nicholas Meyer, I’d probably swoon.  Ridiculous.  Stupid.  But there it is.

I spent all afternoon–that’s right, all afternoon–putting together a model of the starship Enterprise and I’m feeling positively giddy as I look at the end result of my endeavors.  Okay, it’s not perfect.  It’s been thirty years since I put together a plastic model kit; I took one look at the instructions and howled for my son Liam to come and help me.  Liam is a genius at Lego or, really, anything that requires assembly.  He put together our barbecue when he was eleven because I went into a stuttering rage and had to be restrained from smashing it into its component atoms.  True story.

I have a terrible temper.  Murderous.  Especially when it comes to recalcitrant objects.

Liam very patiently lent his assistance to assembling the kit.  To his credit, he insisted I do all the work, he just supervised to make sure I didn’t end up splashing the fucking thing with gasoline and setting it ablaze.

trek2I screwed up, no question.   Supposedly the snap together unit (from Polar Lights)  was  “Skill Level 2, For Ages 10 to Adult”.  Ten?  Maybe a ten year old Stephen Hawking.  I chose mismatching engine nacelles and my spray paint was too old, my hands shook too much and I didn’t have the right colours so had to mix and match but, y’know, I got the thing together and got to spent three quality hours with my oldest son.

It brought back a lot of memories for me too.   From the time I was eight or nine years old, I loved watching “Star Trek”.  Every Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. (after Bugs Bunny), I’d be in front of the TV, ready to watch the latest exploits of the Enterprise crew.  And, later, me and my buddy Brent would buy and build the AMT models; his were always so much better than mine (fucker had a lovely  touch) but I forgave him.  His Klingon battleship was gorgeous (except he kept dropping it and breaking its long neck).

Scan-read William Shatner’s autobiography some weeks ago and was somewhat surprised to learn that he and Nimoy didn’t become friends until long after the series was over.  Gene Roddenberry doesn’t fare well in Shatner’s account–in fact, the Great Bird of the Galaxy turns out to be a first class asshole.  Sigh.

Ah, well, so Gene wasn’t a nice guy or a good writer or faithful husband…his initial concept of a “wagon train to the stars” was a good one and he was fortunate enough to secure three leads who, despite their disdain for each other, created a rare chemistry on-screen.

Whenever I’m in a bad mood,  I crack in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”.  It’s by far the best of the series and a terrific movie, by any standards.  Lots of action, suspense…and a death scene that makes my eyes sting every time.

Trek‘s message, however crudely delivered, was a positive one, humans using their ingenuity and courage to overcome obstacles, revealing  the very best qualities of our species (while not shrinking from portraying the absolute worst).  It’s a theme that resonates, not just with kids but with grownup kids too.  Human existence need not be nasty, brutish and short.  We can aspire to reach the stars and use the enormous mental capacity that we’ve been given to achieve great things.

Shatner was a shit, Nimoy a drunk, Roddenberry…well, no need to speak further ill against the dead.

But what they succeeded in creating, together, transcended all of them and for that we can forgive them their flaws and foibles.

They lived long and they prospered…and by accident or design, succeeded in creating a legendary series that is still relevant, still entertaining (especially if you like camp) and still capable of instilling joy in the heart of a 45 year old man with a bent back, stiff fingers and irritable bowel.

And that’s saying something.



  1. (S)wine

    I’d kill to see some hidden video of you losing it over the barbecue. I suck at putting anything together—other than sentences and paragraphs and stories. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

  2. The Necromancer

    I think this reminiscence has more resonance than you realize. Star Trek, especially the original series, was a staple of many childhood memories, mine included. This doesn’t mean I would be caught dead dressing up as a Klingon or wearing Vulcan ears, but it just might be the foundation of an interest in sci-fi and even some other spacey stuff. It all seems really campy now, but perhaps that’s part of its enduring charm. Shatner, on the other hand, is becoming a shameful shill. But he was always a ham. I like to tell the story that I used to shoot hoops in a schoolyard in the Montreal neighborhood (NDG) where he used to get beat up. Too funny.

  3. mikecane

    I didn’t catch onto Trek until season 2 — during its ORIGINAL NBC network run, OK? So, I’m Trekkie 1.0, 2nd class, I guess.

    Man, the original model for the Enterprise was *hell* to put together. And the saucer and so heavy, no way could it stay on its stand unless it was permanently *glued* there. In fact, now that I recall, just keeping that damned saucer GLUED TO THE REST OF THE SHIP was hell!

    I was lucky just to get models together. Then my friends would show up — and they actually used the damned *decals*! Or *painted* them. One added *lights*, the pretentious shit (who probably works for big bucks in Hollywood now! — or not).

    Hell of a way to start 2009, Cliff!

  4. kswolff

    Added you to my blogroll, homes 😉

    Trek has never been my thing. Used to be into Star Wars before George Lucas parted his ass-cheeks and gave us Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, Clone Wars, etc. Unforgivable, on par with Spielberg replacing the cops guns with walkie-talkies in ET. When did family-friendly become synonymous with “serial eye-rape”?

    Don’t lament of your Trekkie status. I read Warhammer 40K books on occasion. They are hardcore sci fi military trash, albeit well-written trash. One has to read something between volumes of Beckett and Pynchon 😉

  5. eBookGuru

    I love all things Star Trek. I wouldn’t worry to much about being a trekkie, noone will slight you for it..Good job on the model, it looks good


  6. John D'oh!

    Actually, I find your model to be pretty good, although you had a few things mixed up (fuck, it’s still pretty good). I mean, I can’t fucking paint the fucking thing! I’m only good at paper models (which are obviously pre-“painted”). Also, you need not worry about your cred… My friends consider me to be a sadistic Misanthropic asshole (which I sort of am) and I’m a trekkie hands down. I have fucking posters, toys, action figures, model kits, etc. So, you need not worry, my friend.

  7. Cliff Burns

    John: Have to do an Apollo 11 lander in time for the anniversary on the 20th. A model kit that Heller put out–we’re talking some really SMALL parts. Painting that one is going to be only slightly more fun than shaving a live werewolf. Ah, well. We struggle, we persevere. Then we suffer. Then we struggle, then we…you get the point.

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